Celebrating 25 years of The Phantom of the Opera

Stars of the show, past and present, share their memories of the long-running musical

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Today Channel 5 screen the sumptuous 25th anniversary performance of The Phantom of the Opera, filmed live at the Royal Albert Hall in October 2011. We catch up with some of the actors who’ve played the Phantom and his muse, Christine, to get their take on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s record-breaking musical.

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Ramin Karimloo played the Phantom on the West End stage, originated the role in sequel Love Never Dies and takes the lead again in the Albert Hall performance. His new album, Ramin, is released today.

What attracted you to this musical in the first place?

I thought it would be a great challenge as an actor and a lot of fun. Even as a kid, after seeing the production I had ideas on how I’d like to portray the role.

What do you remember of your first ever performance in The Phantom of the Opera?

Many conversations were running through my head from my teenage years with friends who I used to tell how I would love to take the part of the Phantom. Making a bet with one of them saying that would happen. I also remember getting stuck in the angel at the end of act one, which meant the chandelier couldn’t drop over the audience onto the stage. My first night as the Phantom and the most iconic part of the show did not happen! Brilliant.

What is your favourite moment in the show?

I love Past the Point of No Return. It’s such an intense moment of the show but also very sexy.

What part has The Phantom of the Opera played in your life?

It was the first show I saw as a kid that inspired me to further pursue my career as an actor. Being part of it in the original, the sequel, the Hollywood film and the 25th anniversary DVD have all been enriching experiences. I would be crazy not to appreciate the doors it has opened for me as well.

John Owen-Jones has played the title role in The Phantom of the Opera nearly 2,000 times. He’s currently breathing new life into the man in the mask as part of the musical’s touring production. His latest album, Unmasked, is released on 16 April.

What attracted you to the musical in the first place?

The Phantom himself. The story only really works if the audience sympathise with him, and to get them to feel sorry for a murdering, kidnapping, sociopathic, manipulative obsessive is an enjoyable challenge!

What do you remember of your first ever performance in Phantom?

It was a role I had wanted to play for a long time and I remember being very nervous. It’s such an iconic role and the show has such a strong and dedicated fanbase that I didn’t want to get it wrong.

What is your favourite moment in the show?

The first managers’ scene is my favourite to listen to. For me, the best lyric in the show is to be found here: “You’d never get away with all this in a play, but if it’s loudly sung and in a foreign tongue, it’s just the sort of story audiences adore…in fact the perfect opera”. My favourite moment to perform is the Final Lair scene. Truly cathartic.

Has playing the role in the reimagined UK tour made you re-evaluate the character (or the show) in any way?

We tried to make the Phantom less melodramatic than in the West End version and have made the relationship between the Phantom and Christine more ambiguous and hopefully more interesting. The show delves deeper into the backstage world of the Paris Opera and thus deeper into the psyche of the Phantom himself…

Rebecca Caine became alternate Christine when Sarah Brightman left the show, and originated the role in Toronto. She has concerts coming up in Canada and will join The Three Phantoms in their shows at Newcastle Theatre Royal in June.

What do you remember about your first experience of The Phantom of the Opera?

I was in the premiere cast of Les Misérables at the time – also a Cameron Mackintosh show – and managed to get tickets for a matinee of Phantom. I was overwhelmed by the physical beauty of the production, especially after a year of staggering around a turntable wearing a black dress in the dark.

What was your favourite thing about performing in the show?

I did enjoy the high part of the role. Some of it is very low indeed and at that age it was difficult. I wondered if it was like that because of Brightman’s range but was told by a shared singing teacher that she, too, found it tricky. I think if Andrew Lloyd Webber had been my husband, I would have had a quiet word!

What part has The Phantom of the Opera played in your life/career?

Well, there’s my kitchen extension and bathroom refit! Seriously, as with Les Mis, none of us back then had any idea that these shows would still be around 25/27 years later and how iconic, for lack of a better word, they would become. As far as my career is concerned, I spent the next 15 years singing opera and actually I found I had to fight the stigma of being seen as a musical theatre singer. However, I don’t regret it for a second.

Gina Beck played Christine on the London stage for two years, taking over the role in September 2008. She currently stars as Glinda in the West End production of Wicked.

What do you think is the secret of The Phantom of the Opera’s enduring appeal?

The beautiful music is what makes audiences return to the show time and time again. The design, by Maria Bjornson, is still as overwhelmingly spectacular as 25 years ago and, of course, the story of the Phantom and Christine touches audiences’ hearts.

What attracted you to the musical in the first place?

I always loved the music and because I was trained classically it seemed to be a perfect fit for me. I also wanted to make Christine a little tougher than she might have previously been portrayed.

What do you remember of your first ever performance in Phantom?

At the end of Christine’s first song, Think Of Me, she has to sing a high cadenza – I remember I felt a massive sense of relief that I hit all the notes!

What is your favourite moment in the show?

I love the Final Lair scene. It’s desperate and dramatic – all three characters have so much to lose in those final moments. I used to love playing the shifts in power between the Phantom and Christine.

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The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall airs today at 1:40pm on Channel 5